Danyal Mahmood (’15) lay awake for what seemed like hours on end. Unable to fall asleep, he tried counting to 100, turning his pillow to the other side, thinking about a far away place; nothing seemed to be doing the trick. “I know it will be a long night after I try everything I can to fall asleep but I still can’t,” he said.
Mahmood suffers from insomnia, the inability to fall asleep or to stay asleep for a desired amount of time. Mahmood’s condition start- ed in the spring of his sophomore year. After procrastinating for several hours, he began staying up late to finish his homework. His procrastination developed into a habit that he hasn’t been able to break. “I used to procrastinate with my work a lot and sleep later and later. Over time, I just wasn’t able to fall asleep before a certain time. If I tried to go to sleep at 1 a.m., I couldn’t sleep for two hours, or sometimes even more,” he said.
Eventually, as he stayed up later and later, Mahmood’s body subconsciously trained to function in the early hours of the day. “I was just so used to [going to sleep late] that my brain developed a habit of staying awake at night. I became most functional at 2 or 3 a.m.,” he said.
Mahmood isn’t alone. This year, just under 30 percent of people globally suffer from insomnia according to the National Sleep Foundation. Nicolo Baravalle (’14), blames his development of the condition on the Internet. “I would stay awake for so long just looking through songs or videos. During my freshman year, I stayed up really late every night, until 5 or 6 a.m. just browsing the Internet,” he said.Unlike Mahmood, Baravalle wasn’t procrastinating, as he finished his homework before he started his browsing. However, the Internet was such a distraction that it kept him awake until late at night.
Insomnia took a toll on both Mahmood’s and Baravalle’s academics in the beginning. “I used to drift off to sleep in English class a lot. It was really hard at the beginning to stay concentrated,” he said. After adjusting to their sleepless nights, both Baravalle and Mahmood feel normal throughout the day. “In the beginning, it was hard to stay awake during the day. Then it became so normal that I got used to it,” Mahmood said.
Likewise, Baravalle has tricked his body into thinking that sleeping for three or four hours is normal. “I’m not tired during the day because I have adapted my body to function without a lot of sleep.
It’s just what I have to do,” he said. However, Baravalle knows he is underachieving in school and is convinced that he would be a stronger student if he was able to have a regular sleeping pattern. “I am under performing but I often tell myself that whatever I’m doing that is keeping me awake so late is good for me. If I slept more I could definitely be more efficient,” he said.
While Mahmood’s and Baravalle’s insomnia developed out of habit, Noa Roedy (’14) believes her insomnia is hereditary. “My dad has sleep problems and from an early age it always took me a lot longer to fall asleep than normal,” she said. Roedy’s insomnia has only increased in severity as she has grown older, becoming a more serious problem as she goes through High School. Insomnia can severely affect a person’s attention span. Most people who suffer from insomnia often feel irritable, tired and find it very difficult to function during the day according to the National Health Service. Health Teacher Joy Marchese associates insomnia with a difficulty in making decisions, feeling especially moody or falling asleep in class. “Teenagers need 9.25 hours of sleep per night and I don’t think that many students are getting that required amount,” she said. Marchese finds it very easy to tell when students aren’t getting enough sleep. “They tend to put their head down on the desk, lose focus during discussions, or sometimes zone out completely,” she said.
Baravalle recalls an incident when his insomnia caused him to remain awake for 72 hours straight. “I pulled three all-nighters in a row last year and it just killed me,” he said. Baravalle was working on a school project that was due at the end of the week so he was putting all his energy into finishing it.
He rested a few times, taking a couple of naps during the day, but he was awake almost straight through. Baravalle doesn’t remember much that happened in the final hours because he wasn’t able to tell the difference between being awake and being asleep. “I went to the nurse several times on the third day because I thought I was just going to collapse. I couldn’t stay conscious,” he said.
Although the most common treatment for diagnosed insomnia is sleeping pills, both Mahmood and Baravalle have refrained from taking medication to cure their sleeping habits. “My insomnia is so severe that I qualify to take medication but my parents don’t want me to become dependent on it. They think I will become addicted to it,” Mahmood said.
Instead, Mahmood is trying to be more time-conscious and productive when he comes home from school. “I’m making my life more organized and finish my work sooner to get to bed earlier,” he said. Once Mahmood is in bed, he makes his room dark and as quiet as possible. “It usually helps me fall asleep if my bedroom is in total darkness and silence,” he said.
On the other hand, Roedy uses melatonin – a homeopathic supplement which helps to regulate the body’s w rhythm – every night to help her fall asleep faster. Although Roedy takes melatonin every night, it still takes her a couple hours to fall asleep. melatonin is only available in the U.S. Most people who take it feel the effects after ten minutes. “I have to take it [melatonin] two hours before I want to go to sleep and take double the dosage, which isn’t normal. It makes me lazy and drowsy but it doesn’t knock me out straight away like it should,” she said.
Baravalle and Roedy have resorted to altering their sleeping times to rest their bodies. They make up for the hours of sleep they lose at night by coming home after school and napping right away. “Most days, I come home from school and immediately sleep for three hours. Then I wake up, do work, and get more sleep from 4-7 a.m.,” Baravalle said. He believes he is most productive very late at night. “I am most efficient when I should be sleeping. I’m not sure why, it’s just the way my body works,” he said.
While having insomnia can cause a lot of anxiety and stress, many have found the positives in their sleepless nights. They all agreed that the most beneficial part for people who have insomnia is being able to stay up late without getting tired. “If you have a long night of work ahead of you, tiredness just won’t be a problem,” Roedy said. Roedy does her homework and studying late at night. “If I have a lot of work one night, then I use my insomnia to my advantage and stay up to finish studying,” she said.
Likewise, Mahmood sometimes his insomnia to his benefit by staying up all night to finish work. “I can pull all-nighters with such ease and I know a lot of other students can’t do that,” he said.
Baravalle uses his extra hours to do things that he doesn’t have time for in between homework and extracurriculars. He produces music and uses his late nights to work on his projects. “I have so much more time at night to do different things,” he said. “I make a lot of my music at night.”
While insomnia can last a life- time, some people can curb it if they properly address their problem. Mahmood believes that with time, he will outgrow his insomnia. “Over time, I will just develop out of [insomnia]. It isn’t that common for it to last a lifetime. At least I hope so,” he said. “For now though, I just have to deal with it the best I can.”
Roedy believes that taking melatonin will help her fall into a more natural sleeping pattern. Until that happens though, she will continue to have restless nights. “I slept at 3 a.m. last night and tonight I’ll go home and probably sleep at 3 a.m. again. That’s just how I operate,” she said.